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White Sand and Stone


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  • Writer's pictureBrian Spear

Developing an Experiential Learning Mindset

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

Experiential learning, at it's core, is learning through observation and interaction, where you can derive firsthand knowledge through experimentation and observation.

Psychologist David Kolb states experiential learning can be defined as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience (Kolb, 1984, p. 38.)"

This style of learning facilitates a deep connection to meaning, since you inherently become the bridge between what was previously unknown to the now-known. Perhaps this is a new discovery to you, or perhaps a profound discovery for the times. Either way, the process is deriving meaning and understanding through experimentation, interaction and observation.

This style of learning can be done individually, one-on-one teaching and/or in small or large groups, when supported by a teacher or coach. Experiential learning can lead to profound meaning making. For this process to occur, the learner needs to acquire these four abilities:

  • The learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience;

  • The learner must be able to reflect on the experience;

  • The learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and

  • The learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.

My personal stance on this is that the learner need not to have these abilities to learn experientially, but to begin with the willingness to learn these capabilities. This initial learning comes from a supportive teacher or coach who is well versed in experiential learning and education.

Anyone can learn these abilities though mentoring and coaching. Often, its developing (or remembering) these capabilities that give us our first taste of experiential learning and form the foundations for our experiential learning journey.

Through acquiring these above capabilities, the Experiential Learning process continues to grow and grow, leading to more powerful meaning making and more powerful growth, casting wider and wider circles of development.

David Kolb has written out an Experiential Learning Model (ELM) that looks like this:

Riding a bike is a great example... you can read about riding bikes all day long, but the rubber meets the road (literally in this example) when you are able to hop on the bike a give it a try to see for yourself.

If you're like most people, including me, you probably fell a few times and needed some time to "figure it out". This is the stage of experimentation and generally seen with mini breakthroughs and also some frustration. Each time you make the attempt, you are figuring out the whole bike ride through experience. Your body is making more refined adjustments each time you are willing to give it a try and you are locating your balance in relationship to all the moving parts.

Once it all clicks and you are riding your bike, you essentially become one with the bike, wholly present in the now with all the moving parts of riding your bike. Pure magic!

This process of learning to ride a bike follows (generally) each of the steps outlined in the graphic above. These may be small or micro experiments, but overall the learning is experiential and powerful and leads to a strong sense of enjoyment.

There is a saying that goes “once you learn to ride a bicycle, you never forget”.

which is a great illustration of how powerful the experiential learning process is to our everyday lives.

A lot of coaching programs out there tend to have a process by which clients work through specific blocks or work in areas of interest. Psychotherapy, in general, can have an undertone of a "psychological problem" that needs to be "adjusted" in some way. What I offer is the ability for clients to hone in on the process of transformation, learning through direct experience and having that experience shape them to see the world in a new way.

Reference: Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

I hope you've enjoyed this article and found value as it applies to your everyday life.

Stay tuned for more articles and insights.


Brian Spear

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